A detailed history of St Paul's Shadwell
By Alan Baxter and Associates
1 The beginnings
The remains of a guard tower suggest that The Highway, on the higher ground above the flood-prone area to the south, formed a main approach to Roman London from the east, but it seems unlikely that there was any significant settlement in the area up until the 16th century. The name ‘Shadewell’ was recorded as early as 1223, and could have derived from Shady (or Poisoned) Well, Shallow Well, or perhaps a corruption of St Chad’s Well. Despite such early records, the area was sparsely inhabited, and in Tudor times it was covered with ditches feeding a tidal mill.
Shadwell developed as a notable settlement from around 1600. It was in this year that it was first mentioned in the baptism registers of St Dunstan’s, Stepney, and its rapid growth is shown by its frequent recurrence in the registers thereafter. Its position was ideal for further growth, as Ratcliff immediately to the east was the nearest landfall downriver of London with a good road to the capital, and was a place of embarkation and disembarkation for travelers and sailors alike.
The majority of the land in Shadwell, from the site of the present Church in the west to the borders of Ratcliff in the east, and from the line later marked by Cable Street to the river, was owned by the Deans of St Paul’s, who were inactive landlords. Nevertheless, in the early 17th century there was a considerable growth in marine industries and trades in the area, which caused a great increase in population and led to a house building boom. Over 60 fines were levied on Shadwell houses built illegally in the 1620s and 1630s along The Highway and the riverfront, and beside Fox’s Lane which ran between them just east of where the present Church now stands.
By the time the Commonwealth government surveyed the Dean’s lands in 1650 there were 703 houses in Shadwell, excluding the area west of Fox’s Lane not owned by the Dean. Around 60% of the householders made their living on the river, as mariners or watermen etc, while another 20% were in trades reliant directly on shipping, such as shipbuilding or supporting crafts. 32 wharves lined the 400 yards of riverfront, while roperies, timber yards and smithies filled much of the land behind.
In a few decades Shadwell had developed piecemeal into a considerable settlement through speculative building, which had created a sprawl of houses and industries with no defined centre and little social organisation. At around 3% of the population, the ‘middle class’ in Shadwell was extremely small in comparison to the other Stepney hamlets. As late as 1640, the parish of Stepney had 41 officers, but there were none responsible for Shadwell. The area desperately needed social leadership and physical improvement.
2 Thomas Neal and urban development
Thomas Neal (or Neale) was a speculative builder, responsible for Neal Street and the Seven Dials area of the West End. In 1656 he built a chapel in Shadwell (described in 3 below), fulfilling the wishes of many local residents who felt that, with a population of around 6,000 people, the area needed a focal point for the community. His activity in Shadwell brought him into close friendship with William Sancroft, the Dean of St Paul’s who had recovered the land after the Restoration, and who later became Archbishop of Canterbury. This close relationship allowed Neal to obtain the lease of Shadwell on extremely favourable terms in 1669, and he set about improving the area in the hope of increasing its value.
One of Neal’s first successes was in 1670, when his influential friends allowed him to overcome numerous objections to splitting up the huge parish of Stepney. In spite of other previous and much more practical proposals for four equal parishes to be created, he gained separate parish status for the Shadwell Chapel. The new parish church, serving an area only 910 by 760 yards, was rededicated to St Paul in honour of the Dean of St Paul’s who had been so favourable toward him. This victory gave Shadwell its own social structure centred around the parish church, with its own organisation of churchwardens to look after the community, ensure law and order, and levy rates to fund local improvements.
Neal’s commitment to the area continued until his death at the end of the century. In 1673 he rebuilt over 100 homes after they were destroyed by fire, replanning the area with wider streets and building a new quay along the river. In 1682 he rehoused over 1500 families after a massive fire in Wapping and Shadwell, laying out Dean Street as a new thoroughfare. Neal also obtained a charter to hold a market, which he built in 1681-82, so that his tenants did not have to travel to the City to buy and sell, the nearer Ratcliff market having foundered. In 1684, he opened a water works that pumped water from the river to houses from East Smithfield to Stepney, and lasted until it was bought up by the London Dock Company in the early 19th century.
Thomas Neal’s achievement was to turn the ramshackle, amorphous grouping of houses into a real community with a religious and social centre in its parish church, and a commercial heart surrounding its market. He greatly improved the attractiveness of the area, paving the way for it to become famous as a residence of sea captains during the 18th century.
3 The first church
The Chapel was built between 1656 and 1658 on land just outside the Dean of St Paul’s estate, along The Highway on the high ground that never flooded. It was a relatively simple building, still owing much to the medieval past in its triple-gabled nave and aisles layout, though the individual features such as the round-headed windows were classical.
Some important elements of this original Church still survive in the present building, most notably the font. The pulpit was thought to be original by some historians, but a different type is shown on illustrations of the old interior. There also remain considerable items of furniture and plate from the old Church.
4 The eighteenth century
Shadwell continued to grow in the early part of the 18th century as most of the spare land was developed. A survey in 1732 noted over 1800 houses in the parish, many of which had degenerated into slums. Unskilled people flocked to the parish from as far afield as north east England and Ireland, looking for casual labour on the docks and wharves. The continuing increase in seaborne trade and naval expansion contributed to a growth in marine industries, including the roperies with their typical long, narrow sheds and walks, so evident on early maps.
Shadwell was famous for its many master mariners; over 175 were registered as living in the parish at one time or another. By the end of the century, St Paul’s was known as ‘the Church of the Sea Captains’, and 75 were said to be buried in its vaults. Captain Cook was perhaps the most famous parishioner, though Thomas Jefferson’s mother was also a regular worshipper before emigrating to America. The Church was the centre of community life in Shadwell, and attracted considerable bequests for its charitable works. Although not one of the more missionary churches in the area, it was nonetheless the scene for five of John Wesley’s sermons between 1770 and 1790, including his very last.
Shadwell’s maritime connections opened it up to the successive waves of immigrants that came to Britain from the later 17th century. Huguenots were among the first to arrive, and planted the ancient mulberry tree which still survives in the Rectory garden for their silkworms. Spanish and Portuguese Jews arrived later, and were known for their skills in metal working and casting. Germans and Scandinavians were also a strong presence in Shadwell, being mainly concerned with the timber trade and related businesses. The area was also notorious for its many taverns and brothels, which did extremely well out of the sailors passing almost continuously through the area.
The industrialisation of the area slowly led to a decline in the social status of the inhabitants, and in their living conditions. J P Malcolm described Shadwell in the following terms in 1803:
Thousands of useful tradesmen, artisans and mechanics, and numerous watermen inhabit Shadwell, but their homes and workshops will not bear description; nor are the streets, courts, lanes and alleys by any means inviting. …[the Church] is a most disgraceful building of brick totally unworthy of description.
The fabric of the Church suffered from the inability of the parishioners to pay adequately for its upkeep. The unstable south wall was rebuilt in 1735, but by the end of the century the local people could not raise enough money to perform vital repairs. When part of the ceiling fell down in 1811, the Church was declared unfit for use, and was closed for all services except christenings and burials.
5 The second church
With their Church in ruins, the relatively poor congregation had little chance of rebuilding it by themselves. A further hindrance was the opposition of some major local ratepayers, most notably the London Dock Company, to the added expense. In 1817, the parishioners finally succeeded in securing a special Act of Parliament to authorise rebuilding; the Act’s wording recognised that although the population of the parish was estimated at 10,000, they were not very wealthy, ‘the far greater part of them being labourers in the docks and on the River’. The architect chosen was John Walters, whose estimate for the new Church came to £14,000. The sale of the fittings and materials from the old building before demolition fetched only £223. 13s. 0d. and £419. 1s. 8d., respectively, leaving the local people with a considerable struggle to find the remainder.
Tradition maintains that the parish obtained a grant from the Church Building Commission to cover the cost of the new building. The Commission was established by Act of Parliament in 1818, to spend £1,000,000 in providing new Anglican churches, both as a memorial and thanksgiving for the victory at Waterloo, and ‘lest a godless people might also be a revolutionary people’. Another Act added £500,000 to this in 1824. There is no reference to St Paul, Shadwell receiving a grant from the Commission in M.H. Port’s comprehensive study, but one seems to have been made nevertheless. In the event, the building cost £27,000, ranking it as one of the more expensive of the time.
John Walters was born in 1782, and learned his architecture under D. A. Alexander, the designer of the famously Piranesian Maidstone Gaol, most of what is now the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, and numerous dock and warehouse buildings in Wapping and elsewhere. Walters lived and practised in Fenchurch Buildings in the City, and was by all accounts a diligent, able and respected architect, with an almost fanatical interest in his vocation. As well as several buildings, he also had an interest in naval architecture and designed a diagonal truss to strengthen ships’ hulls. Walters died in 1821 at the age of 39, the result of chronic overwork. He left a widow and a son, Edward (1808-72), who became a successful Manchester architect. Walters’ first notable building appears to have been the Auction Mart in Bartholomew Lane, a fine design which was completed in 1809. Its exterior was rather Palladian, while the interiors were inspired by Sir John Soane’s Bank of England. St Paul’s Shadwell (1819-20) was also in a classical manner, though this time leaning much more towards the Greek influences of Neoclassicism. The Gothic of St Philip’s Chapel, Turner Street, Stepney (1818-20) was impressive for its time, although by the standards of later Victorian architects its detailing appears clumsy. This last building is very different to Walters’ usual style, and in fact was probably mostly designed by his pupil Francis Goodwin, who had was a very prolific designer of Gothic churches for the Church Building Commission (see M. H. Port, pp. 71-72). All of the other buildings known to have been designed by John Walters have now been demolished. St Paul’s, Shadwell therefore possesses particular interest as his only surviving building.
With the money in place to pay for the new Church, Walters’ design was executed by J. Streather, as recorded on the west front. The building consisted of a central box-like main space with a projecting chancel at the east end, and a tower at the west end flanked by staircases to the galleries, and included a large crypt which extended under the entire Church and also eastwards and westwards under the Churchyard. The building was largely constructed out of yellow brick, with a stone plinth, and dressings of stone and stucco render, giving an appearance described by the Gentleman’s Magazine as ‘simply neat, and elegantly chaste’. It was apparently consecrated on 5 April 1820, although some sources give the year as 1821. The railings around the edge of the Churchyard appear to date from the early 19th century and were probably designed along with the Church itself.
The Church is like a rectangular box with roughly equal projections at the east and west ends, which contain the tower and stairs, and chancel, respectively. The central box contains the main body of the Church, and is astylar, whereas the two projections are decorated by pilasters, with a pediment at the west end. The windows are also subtly different, with those on the upper part of the main body having individual cornices above their architraves, whereas those on the projections have plain architraves. Such minor details show the thoughtfulness of Walters as an architect.
The western projection of the Church has stone steps with metal railings leading to central panelled double doors flanked by round-headed niches, set in a tetra-style Tuscan pilaster portico supporting a triangular pediment, above which sits the base of the tower. Three tablets above the door and niches record the rebuilding of the Church and the names of Walters as architect and Streather as builder. The sides of this projection act as the flanks of the temple portico, with pilasters at the north and south corners and two rectangular windows one above the other. Where the flanks meet the main body of the Church are interesting gargoyles at cornice level, much decayed now but just discernible as fish or stylised dolphins, alluding to the Church’s maritime connections.
The steeple rises through several stages from its square base above the pediment, moving from a square lantern with four pairs of corner columns supporting an engaged entablature, to a circular tempietto surmounted by inverted brackets supporting an obelisk. Bridget Cherry notes accurately that ‘The stone steeple evokes Wren’s St Mary-le-Bow via Dance’s St Leonard Shoreditch’. The Gentleman’s Magazine described it as ‘peculiarly beautiful, and it is not too much to say, that in correctness of design, and in the simple harmony of its several parts, it scarcely yields to the most admired object of the kind in the metropolis’. Within it hang eight bells, six of which were recast from the peal of the original Church. The clock and its three clock-faces underneath the lantern would The south and north sides of the central box of the Church are virtually identical. They have two rows of five rectangular windows lighting the ground floor and the galleries. The lower windows rest directly on a stone string course, and both rows are set within stone architraves, which have now been painted white. Each side is capped by a plain rendered frieze and cornice, at the same height as that on the west portico, with a the eastern projection is also decorated with Tuscan pilasters, with another tetra-style portico framing the rear outer wall of the chancel, this time without a pediment. The centre originally featured a door at ground level, with a blank wall above (perhaps originally decorated with a commemorative tablet), though in 1848 William Butterfield blocked up the door and inserted a tripartite round-arched window into the upper part of the wall (see 8 below). Either side of the central bay are niches with tablets above, similar to the west end; the north and south sides of this projection also match those on the west.
The west door gave on to a vestibule beneath the tower, with a room and a staircase to either side and a glazed partition leading into the main space. This measured about 96 feet by 36, smaller than was usual at the time, due to the relatively small size of the parish which the Church served, but it still featured four galleries, one on each side, supported on sixteen Tuscan columns. Three of the galleries remain today; the missing eastern one was semicircular, and contained the organ now in the western one. The western gallery was originally probably similar to the north and south ones, with much lower raking to the steps. The galleries originally also featured religious quotations stencilled onto the entablature above the columns - some parts of which are still discernible today.
The door in the east wall was screened from the rest of the Church by a semicircular partition underneath the gallery, in front of which was west-facing seating. The communion table salvaged from the earlier Church was placed in front of these, with the present pulpit to the south and a large reading desk to the north. The inner doors to the nave, and those to the gallery above, had groups of lozenge-shaped openings very similar to the balustrade motif that Walters had used at the Auction Mart and in the Church’s communion rail.
The Church was probably fitted up with box pews throughout, much like the churchwardens’ pews still present at the west end of the nave. The pews, the wall panelling, and the gallery fronts were of oak, painted ‘in a pale stone colour; the Creed, &c. being written in golden letter on panels of a darker shade of the same’ (Appendix 4). The original appearance of this panelling is still preserved in a hidden section behind the current western gallery (fig 20). Together with the light walls and ceiling, and clear glass throughout, this colour scheme would have made the Church appear much more light, airy and chaste than it does now. A large marble tablet was placed on the front of the western gallery commemorating the names of the officers and the date of the rebuilding – this was later moved to the western vestibule.
This is an interesting part of the Church, and remains substantially as it was built, apart from some modern metal clamps strengthening cracked members. The main roof structure consists of four interpenetrating trusses of slightly unorthodox design, which intersect over the centre of the domed ceiling which hangs beneath. The smaller chancel roof is of a similar arrangement, though simplified.
6 The Rectory and Church School (St Paul’s Institute)
A charity school for the poor children of the parish, of which there were a great many, was established in 1696, and funded by bequests and benefactions. As such it was the earliest parochial charity school in London. It was housed in a building near the Church, but this had become so dilapidated by 1816 that it had to be closed. The children were taught in rented rooms until 1829, when ‘the schoolhouse was rebuilt upon a very handsome plan, corresponding with the style of the Church; and now forms the entire western end of the new Churchyard’ (anonymous description, c.1829-48).
It is not known who provided the design for the Institute. It has long been held (e.g. in the Buildings of England, 2005, p. 40) that the Institute and the Rectory were built at the same time as the Church, again to the designs of Walters. Given the evidence above this does not appear to be the case for the Institute. It also seems unlikely that Walters was the designer of the Rectory, as an Act of Parliament was obtained for its rebuilding in 1826, five years after his death.
It appears that the new schoolhouse comprised the first two floors of what is now the St Paul’s Institute. The style of these two storeys is very similar to that of many buildings erected at that time, especially in the pavilions at the north and south ends, and also matches the Neoclassical style of the Church. The upper storey in the centre is constructed with slightly different bricks, and would appear to have been added later in the 19th century, giving a slightly Victorian character to what must originally have been a typical Regency building. The unusually high undercroft is original to the 1829 building, and was used mainly as an extension to the burial space in the Church crypt, with which it apparently connects. The northern end of the building facing The Highway contains one set of double doors, behind which is a room understood to be where the local fire engine was kept.
Some maps show the school occupying only the northern half of the building in the mid 19th century, which would explain why there are two main entrances rather than one. The schoolhouse was described variously on maps as a ‘National School’, (1862), as a ‘Vestry Hall’ (1870) and as ‘Shadwell Church School’ (1885). The Education Act of 1890 removed the pupils to the local Board School, and the building was then known as the Church House. It was also used for adult education, for which purpose it was renamed the St Paul’s Institute. The second floor room in the centre functioned as a gymnasium during this period.
7 The development of the docks in the nineteenth century
The early part of the 19th century saw the expansion of St Katherine’s Docks from their original area, built in 1802-05 by the Tower, eastwards into Wapping and eventually into Shadwell itself in 1828-32. The construction of Shadwell Basin involved the demolition of many houses in Lower Shadwell, increasing the already acute overcrowding, which further worsened as more properties were taken over for warehousing. The increase in trade also brought another influx of low skilled labourers who earned a living through casual work, and spurred on the exodus of the dwindling middle class.
The construction of the first Shadwell Basin did not greatly affect the setting of the Church, but the New Basin dug in 1854-58 changed the area greatly. The London Dock Company were able to compulsorily purchase all the houses south of the Church, and part of the Churchyard itself, which was removed to allow construction of the dock and quay. Perceived movement of the Church walls (still evident today in the slightly bowed south wall) during the excavation of the New Basin forced the construction of the large buttressed retaining wall which still prevents the Churchyard from sliding into the water today. A plaque dated 1859 and set into the wall states that it belongs to the parish, though its upkeep is the responsibility of the London Dock Company. This duty has presumably devolved to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, which now maintains Shadwell Basin. Where now the quay in front of the Church is an open space, from the 1850s until the later 20th century it was filled with low warehouses and workshops, which gave the Church an avowedly industrial setting when viewed from the south.
Butterfield’s most important changes of 1848 involved the chancel, which was turned from a repository for the organ into a sacred space for the altar. The eastern gallery was removed and the organ was placed in a reordered western gallery with dark panelling and draught lobbies, while a rounded chancel arch was built across the eastern recess, supported on engaged stone columns set within the old walls to leave space for a narrow vestry and sacristy to each side, entered by new doorways. This arch clearly divided the Church into two spaces: nave and chancel, rather than the single united space it had been before; the division was further enhanced by lowering the chancel ceiling with a semicircular plaster vault of the same height as the new arch, and inserting in the east wall a tripartite window with equal round-headed lights, featuring stained glass by Ward and Nixon. The high-level windows on the north and south sides of the chancel were blocked by the new lower vault, though the glass and frames survived. The low-level chancel windows were used to light the vestry and sacristy. The eastern door, which so offended the Ecclesiologist, was also bricked up, and the communion table, now referred to as an altar, was placed against the wall.
Butterfield would also have replaced the old Georgian box pews with bench pews, probably like the ones with scalloped armrests still scattered around the edge of the nave and in the galleries. (These were replaced around 1914 or between the wars by neo-Georgian bench pews.) The pews, wall panelling and gallery fronts were either replaced or stripped and stained to a dark colour. The north and south galleries were rearranged so that the seats faced eastwards rather than into the body of the Church. The pulpit was moved to the north side of the Church, and the reading desk cut down into a clergy stall which stood on one side of the chancel, matched on the other side by a copy. A new movable lectern was designed, in typical Butterfield style, to match the round-arched motif he had just introduced in the chancel. The font from the old Church was brought back and placed at the west end, replacing the temporary basin on the communion table that had previously been used.
The Church was also given a decorative scheme to match its new appearance. The low round-headed chancel arch and the triple window had given the building a rather Byzantine air, and this effect was increased by the addition of a reredos featuring ‘the Agnus Dei, and the evangelistic symbols, painted on a gold ground with Byzantine ornamentation’. The chancel arch itself was decorated with ‘the monograms “I H C” and “X P C,” in relief… picked out in colour’. Other, more gothic furnishings such as the side altar at present in the south aisle, and the Puginian gothic chairs that at one time flanked the chancel, were also apparently added at this time. The Ecclesiologist concluded approvingly that ‘the whole effect of the church, with its chancel, is very religious’.
Butterfield’s church alterations were heavily criticised in the 20th century, but it is worth remembering that his changes were so much less thorough than the wholesale rebuilding often undertaken by his contemporaries, as Paul Thompson noted:
[His] rearrangements have been very severely criticized. Nevertheless, what is remarkable is not that he adapted classical churches to the new liturgical needs, but that he respected their architectural character. This was so from the first example, St Paul’s Shadwell, of 1848. Butterfield never attempted to gothicize or Byzantinize classical churches, like Scott, Street or Teulon; he was prepared to change them without imposing his own aesthetic tastes upon them.
It can be argued that Butterfield did actually go some way towards ‘Byzantinizing’ St Paul’s, Shadwell, but Thompson is right to say that, relatively speaking, he was a much less interventionist re-orderer of fabric than was usual for his time. For an example of what could happen to a church in the Greek style in this period one need only look at St Mark’s, North Audley Street, Mayfair, the nave of which was comprehensively rebuilt by Sir Arthur Blomfield in the 1870s. The relative ease with which the St Paul’s was later restored to something close to its original layout is testament to Butterfield’s more restrained approach.
9 Shadwell in the 20th century
There were some attempts to improve living conditions in the parish from the 1840s, when the first philanthropic missions appeared in this part of the East End. Slum clearances were being made as early as the 1860s, but in 1902 Charles Booth noted in his Life and labour of the people in London that the parish of St Paul’s had gained little from the efforts of outsiders and the clergy to improve the religious life and living conditions of most people there. The much larger slum clearance schemes of the London County Council in the first half of the 20th century had a bigger impact on the local environment, and led to the destruction of most of the unsanitary tenements that had been characteristic of the streets around the Church for centuries (fig 36).
Probably the most dramatic alteration to the area in this century was the creation in the 1920s of the King Edward VII Memorial Park to the east of Glamis Road, which entailed the demolition of a great many houses and the destruction of what had been the very heart of old Shadwell. At the time this was seen my most as an important step forward for an area which had almost no recreational or green space, and the setting of the Church from the south east was profoundly changed from urban to semi-rural.
The massive destruction wrought on the East End during the Second World War spared the Church, but destroyed its neighbour St James, Ratcliff, which was not restored (the two parishes were united in 1951). The St Paul’s Institute received minor damage, while the Rectory was quite badly affected. Many of the parish records were also apparently destroyed in the raids. Most of the stretch of The Highway opposite the Church was badly damaged, and was partly replaced in the 1960s with the Glamis Estate.
The social make-up of the area remained solidly working class through most of the 20th century, mainly comprised of dock labourers, watermen and lightermen, and others working in industries and trades associated with shipping. The Government plan to move industry and jobs out of the East End to some of the New Towns in the 1950s and 1960s caused a fracturing of the old relatively stable society, and increased unemployment in the area to far above the national average. Unfortunately this coincided with the decline of the St Katherine’s and London Docks, which had suffered even before the war from the trend towards larger ships that could no longer be accommodated so far upriver. Maritime trade migrated eastwards along with many jobs, until the advent of containerisation in the 1960s ruined the prospects of the docks altogether. Many of the London Docks were filled in and their surrounding warehouses destroyed, and the area slid into a state of widespread dereliction.
Throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s there was a widespread feeling that Shadwell was ‘dying’, and there were several attempts to close the Church altogether, which were successfully fought off by a determined, though small, congregation. Their efforts enabled the Church to remain as part of the community, which was very slowly coming back to life with new housing schemes, many of them promoted by the London Docklands Development Corporation. The LDDC paid for many improvements to the Church in the 1980s, including the conversion of the crypt into a community centre, and connecting Shadwell Basin to the Churchyard with a set of steps. In 1985-87 the warehouses and sheds around the west, north and east sides of the Basin were replaced by new housing, drawing on the old dockside typology of colonnades to relate to the water. The area south of the Church was left open, enabling a direct relationship with the water, and giving access from the dockside up the steps to the Churchyard.
10 Alterations to the Church in the 20th century
Butterfield’s ecclesiological refurbishment was becoming quite unfashionable by the early years of the new century, and in 1914 the new vicar requested permission to take down the false chancel arch, remove the east window, and replace the pews. Not much appears to have been done before the
The Churchyard was cleared of most memorials in the 1920s and was used as a nature study area. A war memorial cross was erected by The Highway in 1923, but the Church itself had to wait until 1931 for action to be taken to purge most of Butterfield’s changes. The chancel was ‘restored’ to its original shape, although the sacristy and vestry were too convenient to remove, and the stone columns flanking the chancel were retained. The dome was reformed and painted to give an ‘evening sky’ effect, following the admired children’s chapel in the crypt of St Martin in the Fields. Butterfield’s east window was, however, retained, although the original high-level chancel side windows were reinstated. A vestry area formed by wooden panelling in the eastern bay of the south aisle was also removed at this time, opening up the nave back to its original unified state. These changes can be seen marked on the drawings made by the architect, W. C. Waymouth.
Also in 1931, the northern staircase was removed from the west end to allow the conversion of the ground floor into a choir vestry, while creating a rectangular store room on the first floor. This was so well done that it is now impossible to tell that there was ever a staircase in that position. It would also appear that it was around 1931 when additional columns were added under the galleries at the east end so as to flank the side altars, as both a plan drawn up in 1923 and Waymouth’s own plans
In 1956 the Church celebrated its 300th anniversary, and the occasion was used as an opportunity to raise money for repairs to the Church and the renovation of the Churchyard, crypt and Institute building. The amount required was £7,000, and supporters of the tercentenary appeal included John Betjeman, the former Prime Minister Earl (Clement) Attlee and, reflecting the parish’s connection with Captain Cook, the High Commissioner for Australia. One of the most visible results of the campaign was the restoration of the Victorian rose garden within the Churchyard, which contained over 80 varieties. In 1964, the war-damaged east window was finally given new glass, by John Hayward. Also around this time, both the dark wooden columns supporting the gallery and Butterfield’s light stone chancel columns, now vestigial, were given apricot marbling, and gilded capitals. This changed the character of the interior quite markedly, disrupting the previous dichromy of dark brown for all fittings, and light stone or off-white for all walls. The ceiling was also once again repaired, this time retaining the 1931 decoration.
In 1974 the choir stalls were removed from the chancel, and the pulpit moved back into the nave. Then six years later the London Docklands Development Corporation paid the full costs of a £103,000 refurbishment, including repairs to the steeple, a new path through the Churchyard to Shadwell Basin, and the conversion of the crypt into a youth training centre. The latter involved the removal of 200 lead-lined coffins from the crypt into the vaults under the western steps. In the Churchyard, the LDDC paid for the creation of a path through from The Highway to Shadwell Basin, and set up new railings in a similar style to the old ones to separate the grave areas from the forecourt. In 1988 this phase came to an end with the construction of the steps down to Shadwell Basin.
The most recent alterations have included the installation of gas central heating in 1989, the refurbishment of the organ and the conversion of the crypt into a nursery in 1990, and the installation of concrete paving in the parking areas in 1994. Most recently of all, the tower and roof were repaired in the last few years, and in 2005 the plaster ceiling of the nave was restored.
11 The Church and Institute today
Having survived the depopulation of the parish resulting from the creation of Shadwell Basin and King Edward VII Memorial Park, the destruction of the Blitz, and subsequent policies of reducing housing density and removing industry, the Church in the 1980s and 1990s had to adapt to an increasingly non-Christian local population. Although the problem of a small congregation has greatly inhibited the religious life of the parish in the last few decades, the Church has nevertheless continued to be successful in reaching out to the local community. In addition to the Institute, which at one time housed offices for the Borough of Tower Hamlets, the Church has often been used for community purposes, and since 1984 the crypt has been used as a nursery and junior school. Most recently, in 2005, the arrival of a hundred parishioners relocated from Holy Trinity Brompton has provided a huge boost to the religious and communal life of the Church, and promises to have a great impact on its future as an institution.
12 The setting
The Church stands within the St Paul’s Conservation Area. Initially the row of dock cottages east of the Churchyard was also included in the Conservation Area, but they now appear to have been removed. The dock cottages are Grade II listed, however,andstillformpartofthesetting of the Church. North of them along The Highway are modern houses and flats of purple brick, which are sympathetic in their scale to the historic buildings nearby. The Conservation Area bestows protection on all trees within the Churchyard. In addition, the views towards the Church spire are protected by Tower Hamlets Council in its Unitary Development Plan (1998).To east and west, the immediate setting of the Church has not changed greatly in its essentials since the early 19th century. The green island of the Churchyard with the detached Church in its centre is still, as it always has been, an oasis in this tightly-packed urban area, with the spire making a handsome landmark for those travelling along The Highway. John Betjeman was very taken by the beauty of the Church’s immediate setting, and noted that it was certainly designed to be seen in the round, flanked by complementary buildings and surrounded by trees and shrubs: ‘The Church itself is different from a Wren Church in that the steeple is related to the Church as a building. Most of Wren’s steeples are designed to be seen above the tops of houses, whereas St Paul’s (Shadwell) steeple is part of the whole composition.’
Thankfully, many of the surrounding buildings and trees remain to this day, although much else has disappeared. In seeking to convey the importance of the Churchyard and its setting, it is worth quoting from the Statement of Significance of Shenstone & Partners, 2003: ‘Positioned between the heavy traffic along The Highway and the tranquil pedestrian area around Shadwell Basin, makes this a prominent site and group of buildings, of local importance in both townscape and amenity terms, in addition to the architectural and historical qualities of the buildings themselves.’
In contrast to the immediate setting east and west of the Church, the areas to the north and south have changed greatly in character since the construction of the Church. To the south the dense network of streets that characterised old Shadwell was swept away by the London Dock Company, although the sight of the Church from across Shadwell Basin (fig 56) makes a fine view. To the north, the dense agglomeration of houses and warehouses have been swept away and replaced by much more open development, in the form of the Glamis Estate. There is now a great contrast between the green urbanity of the St Paul’s Conservation Area south of the road, and the rather more stereotypical and unsympathetic ‘inner city’ feel of the modern buildings to the north, especially the 1960s estate buildings.
The widening of The Highway and its use as a major east-west through-traffic route has had a major impact on the setting of the Church. It cuts St Paul’s off from the northern part of the parish, and also harms the attractiveness of views towards it, as well as intruding on the peaceful atmosphere which the beauty and role of the Churchyard deserves.
From further away, the King Edward VII Memorial Park and Shadwell Basin New Entrance allow the Church to be framed to advantage from the river, where it appears to be in an almost rural setting. Unfortunately, however, the exceptionally unsympathetic tower of Gordon House on the Glamis Estate intrudes into this view from nearly all directions, greatly compromising the setting of the Church from further away. The problem is especially acute from the river, there it is the only building which disrupts an otherwise beautiful prospect.